The following article comes from Alice Harrison, MFL Subject Lead at Oak National Academy.
It is possible there is a language teacher out there that has never been asked this apparently simple question, but I doubt it. Even the most motivating, engaging and relevant teacher has been challenged about the point of learning a language at one point or another.When I’ve been probed, during the hustle and bustle of a lesson while balancing the importance of curriculum coverage with adapting my teaching, I suspect my answer would be less than comprehensive. But with a bit of time and thought I might have said the following:
“Languages are key to empowering and developing globally aware and confident young people. Learning a new language gives you a unique insight into people, culture and traditions across the globe. In a world which is getting ever smaller we need to be able to understand each other, what we say, how we think, what we do and why we do it. We want you to be able to understand others and make a good impression. Knowing other languages opens up a whole new world. We want you to go places and meet new people. We want you to be interesting ”
If they were still listening at this point, they might have asked:
“ Well I can’t say what I want to say. Nobody cares if I like eating chocolate because it is sweet or that yesterday I played football with my friends in the park because it keeps me fit and tomorrow I will go swimming although it is cold. And by the way, please never ask me again what I do with my friends. You’ll tell my mum.”
That would perhaps have led me to reflect on my curriculum and wonder if we were equipping students with what they needed in order to communicate independently and I would create some extra time in order to tinker with it.. Occasionally I would even read some research to indulge my geeky interest in cognitive science. Sadly, as a classroom teacher I rarely had the time to do it properly. Now I do. I have joined Oak National Academy to consult with teachers, organisations and experts across the country and critically engage with evidence based research to support languages teachers who also want to redevelop their curriculum or who want to have a look at how someone else does it. Through partnering with the best in the country, we aim to secure a top quality languages curriculum and accompanying resources which teachers can adapt to their pupils and their contexts which only they know and understand so well.
Language teachers are astutely aware of the absolute value to pupils of authentic experiences with peers in other countries. I became a languages teacher because I went camping in Europe as a child and because I went on an exchange when I was 13. Creating these sorts of game changing experiences is also time consuming. Thank you Global School Alliance for everything you do to help ease the load. You are making a massive difference.
My most effective but brief reply to “the question” was:
“I’ve got more friends because of learning languages. Would you like more friends too?”